Law didn’t stop popular cockfighting in Warwick & environs

Posted 6/7/23

The aftermath of a cockfight during the 19th-century was strewn with booze bottles, feathers, blood and dozens of men claiming that the fight never happened.

A blood sport which dates back to …

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Law didn’t stop popular cockfighting in Warwick & environs


The aftermath of a cockfight during the 19th-century was strewn with booze bottles, feathers, blood and dozens of men claiming that the fight never happened.

A blood sport which dates back to ancient times, cockfighting is the act of putting two birds into a ring, called a cockpit, so that spectators can watch one bird injure and potentially kill the other. Fighting birds are raised to have increased strength and stamina and to act on their natural aggression toward other male birds. During a cockfight, two birds inflict physical trauma upon each other, amid cheering by those who have laid a bet, until one of the birds is critically injured or dead. Often, a fighting bird’s spurs will be fitted with spiked metal so that injuries are deeper and bloodier and a fight more exciting to the violence-loving crowd.

Throughout the United States, cockfighting is a felony. But illegal or not, gambling men have trained and transported their birds, laid down their hard-earned money on a bet and yelled out in satisfaction or anger as the feathers flew, for decades.

In May of 1882, the people of Warwick talked quietly for several weeks of an upcoming cockfight. On Sunday, May 21, the fight took place on the property of “Mr. Baker”, about two miles from Pawtuxet. Early that day, men from Phenix, Lippitt, Apponaug and Crompton gathered at the Greenwood House where an Apponaug police officer, apparently more interested in cockfighting than law enforcement, provided transportation to Baker’s place.

The first cockfight that summer Sabbath morning was between a bird from Crompton and a bird from Taunton, Mass. The Crompton bird won three out of the five rounds. The second fight was between a bird from Apponaug and another from Taunton. More people were there to witness this fight than the first and a great deal of money changed hands. After the referee, a Taunton man, declared the fight to be a tie, a lot of angry gamblers made their opinions loudly known. Once they left Baker’s, however, mum was the word where the cockfight was concerned.

A few weeks later, while most small-town Americans were celebrating the Fourth of July with parades and fireworks, about 500 men were gathered between Hillsgrove and Mark Rock to bet nearly a hundred dollars for and against fighting birds from Centreville, Crompton, Apponaug and Providence. The fight went on for almost four hours with the biggest money-winner being the bird from Apponaug.

The following year, on the Saturday afternoon of Jan. 13, a large number of men gathered at an old barn within a Warwick forest where seven fighting birds had been brought in from Providence and Crompton. Once again, the amount of money laid on bets equaled about a hundred dollars. One of the birds from Crompton won four out of the seven fights.

That March, talk had been making its way around Warwick regarding a cockfight which had allegedly taken place inside a blacksmith shop in Apponaug. Accused of hosting blood-sport, the owner of the shop staunchly denied that any such thing had ever taken place at his business. However, on the 25th of that month, local gamblers were reminding each other of yet another cockfight taking place that day at the blacksmith shop.

During the third week of July 1888, a cockfight was held on the property of Charles Remington, near Price Hill and Apponaug. By now, law-abiding and God-fearing locals were infuriated by the lack of interest shown by police officers in breaking up these fights. Others took full advantage of the lax law enforcement. One man who owned a moving team publicly advertised that he would transport spectators to and from that day’s cockfight for fifty cents per person. A large number of people attended and several hundred dollars was lost and won. The fight, between two bantam roosters, lasted just seven-and-a-half minutes.

The people of Pawtuxet Valley were desperate in their attempts to convince the world at large that cockfighting was not tolerated there. But in truth, not only was it tolerated, it thrived and, by 1893, the fights were becoming more and more common in the village. On Jan. 9 of that year, carriages were passing back and forth a good part of the day, transporting gamblers from Providence, Pawtucket and other RI towns to a barn which stood between Natick and Phenix. About fifty men finally gathered there and about five-hundred dollars in bets exchanged hands. At 3:00, the fight began. The birds brought in were from Phenix, Natick and Providence with most of the betting men laying the odds on the Providence bird. The fights were very short that day, due to the birds having been fitted with steel spurs. The Phenix bird won the first two fights while Natick won the third. The Providence bird cost a lot of screaming men a lot of money and the majority of the spectators there that day left angrily but silently defeated.


Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.


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